How to Choose the Best Bluetooth Headset
Wondering what you need to look for when buying a hands-free headset? This buyer's guide will tell you what you need to know.
What is a Bluetooth Headset?
Bluetooth headsets offer a wireless, hands-free way to enjoy music and videos, accept calls and interact with supporting mobile devices.
While older devices might not support the latest Bluetooth features, they will typically allow basic connectivity and calling features.
Most modern smartphones, feature phones and tablets, as well as some PCs and laptops, support Bluetooth connections without the need for additional adapters or applications.
If you are unsure if your device is compatible, checking your user manual will often provide answers.
Bluetooth Headset Basics
Bluetooth headsets come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and configurations.
However, most are easily categorized into two categories--mono (single-speaker) and stereo (dual-speaker) headsets.
Mono designs typically use an earbud format with some offering clips to hold them securely.
Stereo designs are available in in-ear, on-ear and over-ear varieties depending on your preferences.
From here, things get a little more complex. Not to worry, there’s an easy way to choose that we’ll get to a little later.
Connecting Your Bluetooth Headset
Connecting your Bluetooth headset to your device is often as simple as activating Bluetooth scanning on your device, holding the button on your headset and entering a short PIN to confirm the connection.
Once you have done the initial connection, or pairing, you will not have to perform these steps again unless you connect your headset to another device.
Controlling Your Bluetooth Headset
Virtually all headsets include at least one button.
This is used to pair the headset with your device for the first time or activate other features depending on your device.
Premium models might include a small control pod or other buttons to provide easy access to advanced features of your device, such as voice controls or track selection.
Better yet, many phones and supporting devices provide ways to determine what happens when you push these buttons or even disable them entirely.
Now that you have an idea of how these devices work, let’s dig a little deeper and check out some of the factors to consider before purchasing your next Bluetooth headset.
Bluetooth Headset Features - What You Need to Know
Bluetooth Version Profiles
One of the potentially confusing aspects of choosing a Bluetooth headset is the version of Bluetooth connectivity the device uses. Fortunately, while many products tout the version they use, it is mostly irrelevant. Older Bluetooth devices and mobile devices are almost always compatible, regardless of version. There are only a few situations in which version might matter:
Stereo headsets and music streaming
Devices with the AD2P profile support stereo audio better. Searching for a headset with Bluetooth version 2.1 or higher can also improve audio quality as well.
Extended Use without Charging
One of the optimizations in the newest versions of Bluetooth (4.0+) is support for a low-energy mode. This allows the Bluetooth headset to function much longer than older headsets on a single charge or battery. Bluetooth 2.0 also includes a slight boost to battery life if you are shopping on a budget.
A new wireless connection method is gaining popularity known as Near Field Communication, or NFC. While Bluetooth is a standard and not likely to change anytime soon, choosing a headset with NFC support will provide greater options and features on newer devices and in the future.
Rechargeable Headsets vs Battery-Powered Headsets
Power requirements for Bluetooth headsets continue to get lower and lower. Most new headsets will function for a more than a full day on a single charge, if not longer, depending on your usage. Headsets are available with using either rechargeable internal battery packs or standard batteries (in most cases AA or AAA sizes) to provide flexibility.
Which choice is right for you? Consider these points:
- Cost: Standard batteries are more expensive. However, most modern devices will last days on a single battery. Better yet, rechargeable batteries offer the best of both worlds at a slightly higher initial cost. While a built-in rechargeable cell in your headset might offer convenience, replacement is not always possible. In the case your headset quits accepting a charge, you might have to replace the entire headset.
- Convenience: Choosing one type over the other requires a trade-off in convenience. Rechargeable cells mean never replacing a battery. This also means that unless you are near a charging source, there is no way to recharge your headset on the go. Of course, with USB-charging headsets, an external battery pack might allow you to charge your rechargeable headset and offer the best of both worlds.
Some newer stereo headsets offer HD Audio support. With compatible devices, this offers sound quality that is crisper and clearer than other headsets. If you are an audiophile or talk using your headset frequently, the difference might be worth the investment.
It seems that everyone these days is carrying around or using multiple mobile devices throughout their day. You might check your email on the commute using your smartphone, get work done on the go on your ultrabook and settle in with a good movie the end the day on your tablet. Older Bluetooth headsets would require pairing your headset with each device every time that you switch. Devices that support multipoint pairing eliminate this need by remembering previous devices. Most supporting headsets feature at least 5 devices, though some support more if needed.
If you plan to use your Bluetooth headset regularly, or primarily on the move, dual microphones offer noticeable benefits. The first is a fuller, clearer voice on the receiving end of the call or for voice input to your device. The other is noise cancellation. If you are using your headset in a noisy environment or on your morning jog, noise cancellation might be the difference between a crisp, clear call and a frustrated listener.
In-Ear, On-Ear or Around-Ear? Choosing the Perfect Fit
Bluetooth headsets come in an endless number of designs.
Choosing the best headset for your needs is largely a matter of personal preference. However, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.
Phone Calls or Entertainment?
Most mono headsets and in-ear headsets are designed with an emphasis on voice clarity.
While this is great for phone calls, it can be less than stellar for your favorite music or movies.
Stereo headsets offer better audio, with around-ear headsets delivering rich bass.
However, voices might sound hollow on phone calls and microphones are usually lacking in features compared to specialized mono headsets.
While most headsets are capable of working in any situation, the experience could be lackluster.
Consider your primary use for your Bluetooth headset before purchasing.
Better yet, use headset reviews and sales to find a separate headset for each scenario for maximum enjoyment.
All Day Comfort
For many, a Bluetooth headset is the key to multitasking and balancing a busy schedule.
Whether you are dictating notes, contacting family or checking voicemail, a comfortable fit is essential to getting the most out of your headset.
Every headset is different.
While finding a retailer that will allow you to try out headsets before purchasing is the best way to ensure a comfortable fit, there are a few points to consider when deciding on a headset design:
- In-Ear Headsets: These headsets typical use two ways to stay in place. The first combines a light-weight design with earpieces that hold the headset in your ear canal. The second uses an ear clip to hold the headset in place using the curve of your ear. While clip-based headsets offer a more secure fit for extended use, they are often heavier and harder to quickly place on your ear in the event of an unexpected call. Clipless models are light and easy to pop in quickly but can have fit problems during extended use. Regardless of your choice, premium models with multiple sizes of earpieces can ensure an optimal fit.
- On-Ear Headsets: On-ear headsets offer a balance of comfort and audio quality at the expense of security. Most headsets feature limited ways to customize the fit of your headset. If you are using your headset in an office, this might not matter. If you plan to use your headset on the go or at the gym, consider a model with a headband designed to rest behind the head for additional security.
- Around-Ear Headsets: When it comes to entertainment and music, around-ear models offer richer potential and greater noise cancellation that other designs. However, their bulky design is less than ideal for active use. Choosing a design with open earpieces can also help to reduce heat and improve comfort during extended use.
What Type of Headset is Best for Me?
By now, you have all of the information that you need to find the perfect Bluetooth headset for your device, lifestyle and intended usage.
If you’re still not sure, consider these common scenarios to find the perfect headset for you:
The Busy Business Person or Social Butterfly
Your phone is an office on the go. Whether you are scheduling appointments, replying to email or proofing the latest sales proposal, your phone is always in your hand. Time is always at a premium.
In-ear headsets with dual microphones, such as the Plantronics Voyager Edge, are ideal for ensuring exceptional call quality and reliability, provide a comfortable fit for extended use and allow you to multitask with greater efficiency throughout your day.
On-the-Go Outdoor Lovers or Athletes
Whether you are feeling the burn while listening to your favorite workout soundtrack, practicing for the next match or enjoying a relaxing sunset on the beach, it’s important that your headset is ready for the ride that is your active lifestyle.
In-ear headsets with clips, such as the Jabra Sport Wireless, and on-ear headsets with behind-the-head headbands offer plenty of power to blast your music, talk with friends or catch a movie on your phone while staying in place.
The Audiophile, Gadget Geek or Movie Junkie
You have unlimited data, two music subscriptions and leave you phone on the charger at work while streaming Netflix.
You have a tablet at home that you use as a second screen while watching your favorite television shows. Phone calls are not the highest priority, but you’d like a convenient way to talk without taking your phone out of your bag or pocket.
An around-ear stereo headset, such as the Parrot Zik or Beats Wireless models, will deliver the sound quality you want while adding convenience to your routine.
The Budget Conscious Shopper or College Student
You want the convenience of Bluetooth but are not sure you can fit it in the budget.
You use your phone regularly for conversation with friends and family but your phone isn’t necessarily an integrated part of your day.
The most affordable Bluetooth headset models are typically in-ear models that utilize standard batteries. For less than the price of dinner with friends, you can enjoy a Bluetooth headset.
So there you have it--everything you need to find the ideal headset for your needs.
If you'd like some help deciding, consider our picks for the best overall Bluetooth headsets or compare headsets to find the one that's right for you.